For quite decades, African organic farmers have been finding it hard to penetrate the global market to sell their produce due to challenges ranging from poor market access, pests and diseases and contamination among others.
This has greatly hindered their capacity and ability to produce on the large scale, thus keeping them in a vicious cycle of poverty while susceptible to diseases.
This, however, triggered researchers from Makerere university to spend sleepless nights thinking about which solution can be sought to the major challenges.
The multidisciplinary team led by Prof. Fred Kabi from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) involving software, mechanical, electrical engineers, biophysicists and Biochemists with ordinary minds, came up with an extraordinary solution called KeBERA innovation after discovering that there is a big challenge of limited access of Africa to the global market, especially for organic farmers.
“African share of the global market is only less than 3.5%, but if you talk about the sub–Saharan Africa, its share is only less than 1.7% and 40% of their GDP goes to imports. This means Uganda has an imbalance of trade, an indication that Africa is in a crisis with limited job opportunities, hunger and poverty,” explained Kabi.
“As researchers, we discovered that Uganda has a competitive advantage enshrined in its organic agriculture.”
Being second to India in terms of organic Agriculture whose global market is over $100b, we asked ourselves how can Uganda’s smallholder farmers be awakened to tap into the $100b.
“We came up with a proposal under CAES-ISP, the innovation scholar program funded by Michagan State University and we began a process of doing research in a conventional manner where we have to understand and co-create a solution from the problem identified together,” Kabi explained.
“Under this process, we visited the major organic growing areas and together identified the problem. We called the farmers in a workshop environment and used the data collected from them to model the problem together, but also asked them to suggest a solution,” he said.
They proposed that in case we came up with a solution that can reduce the cost of certification, they could be able to access a better marketplace.
Together we identified that our major challenge was certification and lack of knowledge among the organic farmers.
They suggested that if we could come up with an ICT-based solution to solve this challenge, that would be a game changer and together we came up with an idea of an ICT equipment we could prototype to be able to solve this challenge.
As I speak, we are looking at the different prototypes which can taste organic foods, the plants and the soil against inorganic contaminants because certification of organic foods is based on the nonexistent contaminants that can be dangerous to human beings.
“We are happy to be coming up with a solution that is cheap through using science to scan the food, the water and can be able to tell that this food has been contaminated,” he explained.
He explained that the equipment has been hinged with the participatory guarantee systems that have been based on trust.
This solution, he said will generate data that will support the organic farmers to access the market with information, adding that it’s going to take Uganda to another level to access better organic marketplaces regionally, globally and locally.
The equipment he said will also help in addressing issues of mycotoxins, especially aflatoxin found in maize and groundnuts and also ochratoxins found in coffee.
The equipment according to Kabi will be using QR codes and can trace the farmer who produced the food on the market, his village, sub-county and his district, adding that they are currently finalizing testing all the chemicals.
“We have done over 80% in terms of software, and 70% hardware. We can guarantee testing water, some chemicals, traceability, geolocation and eCommerce.
“We are hopeful that this will solve the challenges of poverty, hunger and unemployment amongst the youths,” he said.